India v England, 1st Test, Ahmedabad, 4th day November 18, 2012

A hard day's fight

India knew there would be long sessions in the field at some point - though you wonder whether DRS may have crossed their minds, even momentarily

At 3.30pm, with a minimum of 13 overs to go in the day, the final drinks break was called for. The India team gathered around in the one part of the field that provided them shade, with a stand coming between them and the setting sun. They all sat down, and rested for a good six minutes. It was an instructive image.

The over-rate wasn't a worry for them, so there was no one asking them to hurry up. They had been in the field for 189.2 overs (202.2 by stumps) after having enforced the follow-on. R Ashwin had bowled 48.2 overs (52.2 by stumps) without a wicket. They were bowling to a batsman in Alastair Cook playing - for the match state and the scale of it, if nothing else - one of the best Test innings played by a batsman visiting India. The pitch had slowed down, England had become more used to the conditions - less panicky, more sure with their footwork - and it was hard to imagine where the next wicket would come from.

From the time the ball refused to bounce rib high on day one, India would have known they would have to go through such a day, when they would need to stick to their disciplines and work hard for their wickets. There wouldn't be many flying off the shoulder of the bat to short leg, and the turn would be slow enough to let the batsmen recover even when beaten in the flight. India worked pretty hard for them in the first two sessions, and were gifted two too: one by Kevin Pietersen and another by Tony Hill.

Pragyan Ojha continued to make use of the pitch, Zaheer Khan showed good skill in the morning, and most encouragingly Umesh Yadav ran in hard and bowled fast reverse swing on a pitch where England bowlers hovered around 130kmph. Yadav acknowledged the pitch was becoming flatter every passing minute, and that it called for a lot of effort to extract life out of it. Even at his pace, he said, he had to bowl in certain areas to get the ball to carry some. He said on such a pitch you needed to put in all your effort and wait also for the batsmen to make a mistake. Those mistakes weren't forthcoming.

India are still ahead in the game but they know if England bat another 45 overs on day five they will have a tricky chase on their hands, with one of their openers not allowed to bat in the top six unless Cook allows him. Gautam Gambhir has been away after his grandmother, whom he absolutely adored, died during the Test. He is expected to be back on Monday morning, and it is hard to question his absence.

The obvious question after a hard day that yielded five wickets will be what India could have done differently. You won't find many different answers. Possibly Ashwin could have been more patient. He tried too many variations: his carrom ball always started too straight, the mystery ball was too obvious and never came out right, and he even tried to run in like a left-arm spinner. As expected, Ashwin won't give you a pitch map as concentrated as Ojha's. He tries a lot of things when bowling, and when you have the discipline of Ojha at the other end, you can afford him to do so.

That's all good when you are getting the wickets, but perhaps when the batsmen are settled you need him to do the other, dirty job too. Sanjay Manjrekar made an interesting observation, citing from his playing days both in Test and domestic cricket, about how they used to get batsmen in driving mode by pitching up to them for overs on end and plugging the straight field with mid-off, cover, mid-on and straight midwicket. That's when, with the batsmen used to driving, the variation becomes more effective, especially on a slow and low pitch where the batsman can hang back. India didn't do that.

You also wonder if - when getting up from their final drinks break or at any other point during the match - even for a fleeting moment India thought of what would have been if there had been DRS. This is to not reignite a tired debate that won't go anywhere until the ICC takes ownership of the concept. This is not to highlight that Cook was reprieved when on 41.

This is only to imagine DRS in a purely tactical sense. Forget the tangible results: there have been some plumb lbws off spinners turned down, and two not-outs off quicks given. The absence of DRS has left the umpires more conservative than they have been since the introduction of DRS. That is a big difference between England facing Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman in the UAE and England facing Ojha and Ashwin in India. Pakistan got 22 lbws in that three-match series. Only three of them came through reviews, but it cannot be denied that the umpires felt empowered enough to go with the bowlers on marginal calls.

It is out of question that India would have gone for DRS just for this tactical use. Nor will they be regretting it, but its absence has levelled the playing field a little.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rahul on November 19, 2012, 4:04 GMT

    Outstanding day of attritional hard fought TEST Cricket. On the one hand Indian bowlers gave it all but met with stiff resistance from Cook and Prior. That is why Test cricket is and always will be hardest test of a cricketers ability, endurance, patience and skill

  • Mathew on November 19, 2012, 2:35 GMT

    Agree with Hillbumper on this. Finn/Monty to come in next match, but I would drop Broad. Since picking up an injury his threat has all been extinguished. End since losing the toss were always up against it (as is too often the case in IND). I actually still feel Ind to win here but I hope we go down swinging. Fantastic contest so far and exciting series to come.

  • Guy on November 19, 2012, 0:15 GMT

    Interesting comments from the author on DRS. I felt that the umpires went in the batsman's favour in the Aust v South Africa 1st Test, as they should (benefit of the doubt and all that), putting the onus on the bowling team to use DRS, which is the opposite of what he is saying in the article. The exception was the Amla dismissal in the 1st innings. Incidentally, the umpires in that game were generally excellent on caught behinds but mixed on LBW. On a completely unrelated point, the photo with the article shows Ashwin's quite amazing action, about 10 degrees past vertical. He'll never drift a ball in his life bowling like that, which is probably why he was so ineffective in Australia. Oh, and I agree with @hhillbumper on England showing fight. India may well still win this Test and we can debate 'green track bullies' vs England's difficulties with spin until the cows come home, but at least England have showed some spirit, quite unlike India on their recent tours.

  • daniel on November 18, 2012, 20:42 GMT

    @hhillbumper, During the tour of England, there were atleast 4 occassions when India looked like they could beat England in England. England on the other hand have not looked to dominate even one session in this game. Scoring centuries in flat pitches counts for nothing. When the pitch had some life, Indian batsmen scored 500+ and England scored 190. That shows the gulf between the sides. It is good that India are letting England score, can't wait for a Sachin special in the second innings to close this match out.

  • sharks on November 18, 2012, 18:23 GMT

    @ hhillbumper mate there is no point in bringing India's time in England again and again. Not taking anything away from England's performances, they played awesomely today but dont forget England got more practice matches in India. Our main strike bowler got injured right in the first session of the first test, not to mention many others got injured and returned home later in the series. Still, the first two tests were not one sided. I still remember it correctly that there were times when match could have gotten either way, here thats not the case. And bdw, do you think England would have shown the same fightback say if Swann had gotten injured in the frist session ?? It would have exhausted them mentally not to mention India would have scored a mammoth score.

  • Dummy4 on November 18, 2012, 17:22 GMT

    Nampally: This Indian attack is not world class and belongs to a fifth place team. Dhoni is the best captain India ever had. He should be given more free hand in selection. It is obvious that red tapeism which is crippling administration in India is depriving Dhoni the powers to do things.

  • Dummy4 on November 18, 2012, 17:00 GMT

    I dont think there was a fight. India having a hopeless day with pitch becoming non responsive. Indian body language was negative as their spin attack is now the open secret.

  • Flat on November 18, 2012, 15:34 GMT

    @hhillbumper: So we see two things hereon as we discussed yesterday, one that reverse swing plays some role on Indian pitches if not as much as spin, second being the fact that if English seamers get into right rythm with Monty and Swann as spinners, Eng fight.

  • Ashok on November 18, 2012, 14:51 GMT

    The pitch has slowed down a lot, making spinners easier to play.It was a very tough day for India on the field. Field setting with a silly mid off + a silly extra cover lacked logic. India lost many singles there. Also Ashwin was tossing up with the sweep shot of Cook not covered.Cook got many 4's there. Dhoni missed a few chances - a stumping, at least one catch. The bowling changes were better but still not good. Sehwag & Yuvraj were not used - Why? Sehwag is a good off spinner & should have relieved Ashwin to cut his work load. Similarly Yuvraj could have cut Ojha's work. The use of the pacers was better today & they got 3 wkts. On a long hot day all these tactics make a world of difference to the result. India has the bowling to win but MSD always under estimates his bowlers. Cook played a fine innings - mixture of patience, defence & aggression. Prior once again put his money where his mouth is. Cook & Prior have rescued England twice.A draw most likely unless India strike early.

  • wasib on November 18, 2012, 14:25 GMT

    I actually think that Ashwin didn't bowl enough carrom balls and if he did he'd have taken at least one wicket.

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